MPAA: Global Box Office Reached Record $31.8B in 2010

Foreign market was up 13% to an all-time high of $21.2 billion, while the domestic market held flat at $10.6 billion; North American 3D sales doubled, but admissions fell 5%

The global box office boomed to an all-time high of $31.8 billion in 2010, according to statistics released Tuesday by the Motion Picture Association of America.

This, despite a stagnant North American market that saw 3D ticket sales double in 2010 to $2.2 billion — about 21 percent of the overall market — but overall admissions decline 5 percent.

Overall, the domestic box office was flat with 2009, totallying $10.6 billion, according to the MPAA.

But the foreign market enjoyed its best year ever, growing 13 percent to an all-time high of $21.2 billion.

China was singled out as a key growth driver, spiking an overall Asia-Pacific market that grew 21 percent in 2010.

Strong growth was also experienced in Latin America, a region which grew 25 percent in 2010.

Speaking to journalists via conference call Tuesday, MPAA president and interim CEO Bob Pisano and National Association of Theater Owners president and CEO John Fithian downplayed the notion that high prices for 3D admissions are driving down demand for tickets in the U.S.

"I do not believe 3D charges are negatively affecting admissions," Pisano stated. "The consumer makes a (calculation), and they end up getting the value that they paid for."

Added Fithian: "Any time you have a new technology and a new product offering, you have to experiment to see what the patron wants. The  price points (on 3D) have kind of been up and down, as we have seen how the patron is responding. We started off too low on 3D price point, went too high, then settled into something  that is more acceptable. I think we've achieved a decent price point."

Still, with domestic  admissions falling to an 18-year low of 4.1 per capita — down from 4.3 in 2009 — both Pisano and Fithian registered concern.

"I would point out that these things are cyclical," Fithian noted. "Admissions in the U.S. and Canada have grown significantly over the last four decades. Does this represent just a cyclical blip? We probably won't know that for another four or five years."

Overall, Fithian added, "While admissions have been stagnant, if we have to have something that grows, revenue works for me."

For his part, Pisano also proved sanguine on the subject of premium video on demand. "Nobody knows yet what the impact of a premium window will be because nobody has made one yet, but what I can tell you is that there is no substitute for the experience you find in the cinema," he said.

Both officials expressed confidence in 3D's ability to continue to grow the market — well, at least the revenue end of it.

Currently, only 20 percent of domestic screens, and 15 percent globally, are outfitted for 3D, but Fithian said build-out of digital 3D exhibition should be completed by 2013.

In terms of the international growth, Pisano expressed bullishness on China, but also frustration, given "the inability of non-Chinese suppliers to relase films in China and to realize a market rate of return."

Meanwhile, keeping the steady anti-piracy drumbeat going, PIsano noted that "online and digtial theft" are driving what the MPAA sees as a drop in overall film production.